GENEVA, MAR. 6, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Switzerland is about to inaugurate an exhibition of Marc Chagall´s works, calling attention once again to this Russian-French artist´s profound relation to Jesus, although Chagall never embraced Christianity.
The exhibition, to be held in Lugano´s Museum of Modern Art from March 8 to July 1, highlights Chagall´s religiosity. Chagall was born into a Jewish family in Vitebsk, Byelorussia, in 1887. The artist, who died in Saint-Paul de Vence, France, in 1985, regarded Jesus as a martyr of his persecuted people.
The exhibition includes 80 canvasses, covering Chagall´s art from his youth to old age (1908 to 1980). There are also six sculptures and 40 works on paper, including watercolors and drawings.
The exhibition gives a flavor of the Yiddish atmosphere breathed by the painter during his childhood and youth. When Chagall was a child, Byelorussia was a region where the Hasidim flourished, a mystical movement in which the disciple did not visit his master to learn a mysterious doctrine, but just to see how he tied his shoelaces — the belief being that the great mysteries of life can be discovered through daily and seemingly banal actions.
As can be seen in his work, for Chagall the world is good and beautiful, but the sorrow and persecution experienced by his people led him to believe that the world still needed redemption. This led the artist to discover in Jesus Christ, not the Son of God, but the symbol of his own people´s suffering.
Chagall´s most striking work is “The White Crucifixion” of 1938. The crucified wears around his waist the Jewish prayer mantle. A candelabrum burns at his feet and scenes of violence surround him: burning synagogues, elderly Jews rushing to save sacred scrolls, and terrified women and children fleeing.
The work is not a criticism of Christianity, on the contrary, Franz Mayer, the famous art critic explained in the 1960s. Chagall once said that, since 1908 — the year of one of Russia´s worst pogroms — Jesus became for him a Jewish martyr, a son of his people, in whose life and sufferings he shared.